A big, thick, well-developed back can lift a physique from good to great. Unfortunately, the muscles of the back are the toughest most lifters have to develop.
This struggle is partly due to the tendency to train the mirror muscles, but it is also heavily influenced by poor exercise selection and repetition execution.
The back is a large area of muscle made up of several different muscles that are capable of other actions.
The complexity of fully training the back is illustrated by the wide range of machines and attachments.
The grip you choose, and then the intent of the movement with which you initiate a repetition, will largely determine the quality of the stimulus you generate.
In order to get results from your training, you need to create the appropriate incentive to achieve the adjustment you want. A significant stimulus combined with adequate rest is what you need to build muscle and strength.
Stimulus + recovery = adjustment
Creating an effective stimulus is important in growing your back. What is less obvious is that the effectiveness of your back training can essentially have an impact on the rest of your muscle groups as well.
As I mentioned earlier, the back is a huge area to exercise in. If your repetitions and sets aren’t stimulating efficiently, you will need to do more sets to get an effective workout.
Exercise your back
Effective back workouts could be achieved in as little as six sets, but poor execution and choice of exercises could mean that double the number is enough to get muscle building stimulus. That is twice as much as with the same effect, which is completely inefficient.
It is very exhausting to do twice as many sets for the back. This fatigue affects your overall systemic recovery capacity.
The body has only one tolerance for so much exercise per week.
If you have to work your back twice as much, it will drain your reserves for other muscle groups.
The total number of sets you can edit per week will be affected. If the back takes up twice as much space in your program as it should, it means something else is suffering. For example, maybe your biceps workout needs to drop.
In short, we want to maximize training efficiency wherever possible. Being efficient opens up a larger window of time to allocate resources to other muscle groups and gradually increase the overall training volume.
Because exercise volume has a dose-response relationship with muscle gain, the potential to do more over time is a handy tool to have in your toolbox.
Key takeaway: More effective back training makes your back grow faster and also makes it easier for other muscle groups to grow better.
Paying attention to your grip choices and the way you do your reps can greatly optimize your back training. A few basic anatomies will help you make the smartest choices for grip position and arm travel.
As a rule of thumb, a neutral or supinated grip is better suited to training the lats on rows and pulldowns.
One of the actions of the lats is to stretch your shoulder.
You can perform this action more effectively if you are in a neutral or slightly outwardly turned position.
Train your lats
When aiming at the lats, use handles that allow a neutral or slightly outward hand position. Examples are broad (ish) neutral or supinated lat pulldowns and rows. Grip widths of shoulder width or just outside are just right for this. The lats are attached to the upper arm.
Hence, it is the upper arm path that we care about, not how far your hands move.
When you are exercising a muscle, you want to go from fully elongated to shortened while maintaining tension throughout the area. Take the origin and introduction of the muscle (each end where the muscle is attached to the bone) as far apart as you can actively control, then try to bring those two points as close as possible.
To do this effectively for your lats::
- Start the lift phase of a pull-down or lat-focused row by moving your upper arm down.
- Don’t perform by pulling your biceps.
- Think of your hands as hooks.
- The lats are attached to the upper arm, not behind the elbow.
- Focusing on bending the elbow shifts the focus to the biceps.
This mistake in technique can turn an excellent lat exercise into a crappy biceps exercise.
Remember, the goal here is to train the lats so you need to initiate with them and keep the tension on them.
By taking a neutral or semi-supinated grip and starting the lift phase by moving your upper arm down and towards your hip, you can dramatically increase the activation and tension of the lats.
The arc of your arm path on a lat pulldown should be almost like doing a lat sweater to maximize this effect.
Exercise your upper back
The upper back:
When it comes to upper back training, we want to focus more on shoulder blade movement.
The upper back muscles all act directly on the scapular (shoulder blades). To train them effectively, we would like to see movement in this area.
This movement is best achieved with a strong grip (palms down) and higher arm travel. Exercise these muscles over their entire area by thinking about doing a full stretch forward into an elongated position. Then start by moving your elbows back and trying to pull your shoulder blades back and together at the highest contraction.
Imagine trying a reverse hug and trying to touch your elbows behind you (this won’t happen unless you’ve suffered a terrible injury) but that is the general movement and arm path that You should pursue.
Links to a bigger, stronger, V-shaped back
Lats = neutral or supinated grip and initiate by pulling the upper arm down and then towards the hips.
Upper back = pronounced grip and rowing with your elbows up and out to start and finish the repetition by trying to push your elbows together as far behind you as possible.